Rethinking Voluntary Approaches in Environmental Policy

Rethinking Voluntary Approaches in Environmental Policy

Rory Sullivan

The book systematically analyses three initiatives (environmental management systems, the Australian Greenhouse Challenge and the Australian mining industry’s Code for Environmental Management) and their contribution to public environmental policy. By moving the debate away from narrow considerations of economic efficiency towards a broader framework that accounts for the multiple goals to which environmental policy needs to be directed, this book significantly enhances our understanding of the role that voluntary approaches can play in achieving environmental policy goals.

Chapter 2: Evaluating Environmental Policy Instruments

Rory Sullivan

Subjects: business and management, management and sustainability, environment, environmental management


One of the particular limitations with the literature on environmental policy instruments is that so much of the writing is very discipline-specific. While it may be overly harsh to stereotype economists as favouring economic instruments, lawyers as preferring traditional regulatory approaches, scientists as preferring research, and business people as preferring voluntary approaches or self-regulation (as suggested by Gunningham and Sinclair, 1999a: 50), such an assessment is probably not too far from the truth. The consequence of reducing the evaluation of environmental policy instruments to a single criterion is that potentially important dimensions may be omitted or excluded from consideration. For example, the fact that a specific policy instrument is the most economically efficient does not mean that the instrument will be acceptable to business (for example, business may be unwilling to incur the transaction costs associated with the implementation of the new instrument). This book deliberately presents an interdisciplinary view on policy instruments, where a range of factors, such as environmental effectiveness, economic efficiency, innovation and political acceptability are considered. This broader approach allows the broader dimensions and implications of policy instruments to be identified and assessed. One of the challenges with an interdisciplinary approach is that there is limited agreement in the literature on the criteria that should be used for policy instrument evaluation. Table 2.1 illustrates the issue well with, at least on the surface, significant differences in the criteria proposed by different authors: even the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) proposes different criteria for evaluating...

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